Moses Kuria: A rabble-rouser sets to lead Kenya's manufacturing dream

BD Kuria

Moses Kuria, the former outspoken Member of Parliament for Gatundu South, placed a relatively big bet in the August 9 elections, running for Kiambu governor as well as distinguishing himself as a key campaigner for President William Ruto in the central Kenya region.

His position in the President's Kenya Kwanza coalition at some point appeared shaky after he chastised the leadership for sidelining small parties, including his Chama Cha Kazi, in the decision-making.

Just two months later, Mr Kuria would emerge as one of the big winners of the elections, having been named in the new President's first 22-member Cabinet

As the Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Investment and Industry, he is in charge of a key ministry in the country’s race to become an industrial hub in the region by 2030.

And in his usual manner, he has got down to work, making pronouncements some of which have not been received well by the 'hustlers' the ruling coalition sought to appeal to during the campaigns and critics alike.

To his supporters, Mr Kuria is a brilliant mind with an extensive corporate career that the country needs in its pursuit to industrialise.

His critics, however, view him as a divisive politician and a loose cannon whose past utterances should have disqualified him from being considered for a Cabinet appointment.

“We have come from a very divisive phase in the politics of our country, most of us were players in that context. Kenyans can look forward to me working to bring people together,” he said in response to questions about his past remarks during his vetting by a parliamentary committee.

A rabble-rouser for most of the slightly over a decade career in politics, Mr Kuria said during his vetting that most of his comments seen as divisive were usually taken out of context by the media and social media users.

“Any perceived extremism or divisiveness on my side has been shaped by the kind of political culture we have had I am going to play my role in having a culture where politics is just competition,” he said.

As the straight-talking settles into his new role, events of the past week show that the public manner he articulates his vision for the ministry will disappoint some people who see him as veering off the populist 'hustler' campaign narrative about uplifting people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

The 51-year-old banker recently denied that he plans to ban second-hand clothes (mitumba) after a video emerged online of a bitter exchange between him and a woman over the subject at a consultative meeting with the players in the industry.

And before the 'mitumba' storm could calm, the Trade Cabinet angered a section of leaders from the Lower Eastern region over his announcement of plans to evict squatters from the East African Portland Cement land in Athi River and have it used to build a cargo airport.

ALSO READ: Portland Cement settles Sh6.8 billion KCB loan

“East African Portland Cement will not turn out to be a centre for land transaction, we have the plan to utilise the land in question by constructing the first Kenya cargo airport; a facility that will turn around the fortunes of this company,’’ said Mr Kuria.

Mr Kuria was born in Gatundu in 1971, the fifth child in a family of nine. He attended Guthuya Primary School and Ituru High School in Kiambu before joining the University of Nairobi for a degree in Commerce.

His experience in the corporate world includes a stint at StanChart where he served as head of business in Africa and Al Rajhi Bank in Saudi Arabia where he was head of business re-engineering. He also worked at Wamad Information Services in Dubai as the chief operations officer before quitting in 2007 to join politics.

He first joined parliament in 2014 as the MP for Gatundu South through a by-election following the demise of the then MP Jossy Ngugi. Prior to being elected, his role in politics was mostly as a party operative, first as programmes director at the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the strategy officer at The National Alliance (TNA).

As Cabinet Secretary, he has promised a raft of reforms that will open Kenya for more foreign direct investments (FDI) and create jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Mr Kuria has particularly vowed to lure manufacturers that have left the country in recent years back and work with the Kenya Revenue Authority to create an environment where businesses will pay taxes voluntarily.

He has not given details of how this will be achieved

“We will work with KRA to increase tax revenue but we will not weaponise it, we will create an environment that makes it easy for business people to pay taxes through an efficient tax system,” he told MPs during vetting.

He has further outlined his plan to engage other trade ministers on the continent and the US government to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Mr Kuria has also said he would expand the Export Processing Zones and create aggregation centres in all counties to promote value addition because the country should manufacture more or “perish”.

[email protected]